Master engraver Ray Wielgus (1920-2010) spent his career working as an industrial product designer. While retired and living in Tucson, Wielgus began engraving handguns, turning utilitarian objects into unique, artistic creations of exquisite beauty, and helping to redefine a centuries-old tradition of firearm embellishment.
Wielgus’s handgun ornamentations demonstrate exquisite craftsmanship. The artist worked with modified, antique firearms, painstakingly engraving elaborate compositions into the steel and then hammering in gold through a process of inlaying metal into metal called damascening, which originated with ancient civilizations. The firearms feature a modern-day blending of hard-edged, Art Deco motifs with intricately detailed patterns associated with European Celtic designs.
During a 34-year period, Wielgus made a total of 67 engraved guns, spending an average of 560 hours on each firearm. The exhibition includes 39 of Wielgus’s specially crafted items. Accentuated with antique, hand-carved ivory grips, virtually every aspect of the firearms has been altered, transforming each into a jewel-like sculpture.
Ray Wielgus: The Art of Engraved Firearms is an official Arizona Centennial 2012 event sanctioned by the Arizona Centennial 2012 Foundation Sanctioned Events Committee.
LEFT: Ray Wielgus (engraver), Colt Model 1861 Navy Revolver. Blued steel, gold, ivory. Collection of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. CENTER: Ray Wielgus (engraver), Colt Second Model Dragoon Revolver. Steel, gold, ivory. Collection of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. RIGHT: Ray Wielgus (engraver), Remington New Model Army Revolver. Steel, gold, ivory. Collection of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.